If you've lived in the United States for your whole life, maybe you don't know the sad truth about gun violence in the country — it's not normal. Heartbreaking mass shootings don't happen at this same rate literally anywhere else in the world. There are myriad
countries the U.S. should learn from about gun control, but first it helps to take note of exactly how much of an outlier the United States really is when it comes to its obsession with guns.
According to the
BBC, more Americans own guns than anywhere else in the developed world. Gun homicides account for a greater percentage of homicides overall than anywhere else in the developed world, by a huge margin. High-powered assault rifles cost approximately the same as a new MacBook. Even since the heartbreaking massacre at Sandy Hook, there have been over 1,500 mass shootings. In fact, the country averages one mass shooting a day.
And yet even though the research is clear that more guns leads to more gun deaths, both across U.S. states with differing laws and across the world, the
pro-gun control lobby still faces seemingly insurmountable challenges. The well-funded NRA has an iron-fisted grip on many members of Congress and state legislatures across the country, making it exceedingly difficult even to get the most basic gun regulation bills passed. Let this be a reminder — it does not have to be this way. Gun control has worked wonders in other countries, and here are just a few examples.
Australia is often tossed around as an example of gun control that the United States can learn from, just because it offers such a stark contrast to the way we've gotten used to things working in the United States.
In 1996, a gunman killed 35 people in a mass shooting that shook Australia to its core. Following that shooting, the country instituted a mandatory, across-the-board buyback of certain types of guns, in addition to a ban on buying any of them in the future.
The result? Australia hasn't had a mass shooting since. The buyback and ban didn't erase gun violence from the country entirely, but in 2014, for example, there were only 35 gun-related homicides — that translates to only 0.15 people per 100,000 murdered by a gun. And it didn't only affect homicides — there has also been a
74 percent drop in gun-related suicides since that change in Australia. There's absolutely no way to look at the stats and say that gun control doesn't work.
The United Kingdom is another place where
mass shootings led to huge change in the country's gun control laws, with one mass shooting in 1996 leading to a handgun ban and a buyback of thousands of guns. While gun control in the U.K. hasn't been as effective as it was in Australia, it's still led to a steady decline in the murder rate and a much lower rate of gun-related deaths than in the United States.
Gun rights advocates often point to non-gun related violent crime in the
U.K. as a reason why gun control is useless — but there's no way to get around the fact that fewer gun-related deaths mean fewer mourning families and friends and fewer lives lost. And after all, a violent crime carried out with a knife as a weapon has no chance of killing as many people as one with a gun.
Most civilians in Israel know how to use a gun, given that the country has mandatory military service for both men and women. However,
guns are tightly regulated under Israeli law, even for soldiers. They aren't, for example, allowed to take their guns home on leave, and PBS reports that individuals have to pass a screening and prove that they have genuine cause to own a gun before they are granted the license.
Guns are an every day part of life in Israel, but thanks to the strict controls placed on gun-owning civilians, the country only sees about two gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, according to
Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 127 million people in a country much smaller than the United States. And yet,
in 2014, Japan had only six gun-related deaths. No, they haven't banned all guns outright; people are allowed to own shotguns and air rifles but not handguns or anything like assault rifles. The biggest difference between gun control in the United States and Japan is the extremely strict set of procedures that any prospective gun owner has to go through in Japan before they can buy a gun.
The BBC explains that you have to go to a class and pass a shooting test, in addition to a written exam. The authorities will check your mental state and your recent drug tests, and they'll interview your colleagues and your family members about you. Police will come check to make sure that you're actually storing your guns where you said you'd be storing them, and then guess what? You have to reapply for a license every three years. Yes, there's a different culture surrounding guns — but these gun control measures have helped to almost completely get rid of gun crime in Japan.
The Czech Republic is similar to the United States in that a good segment of the population owns guns, and there is a thriving gun culture in the country. It's dissimilar, however, in that
one shooting in a rural town far from the capital sent the country into a frenzy when it took place in 2015.
The difference is that it takes a lot more to
own a gun in the Czech Republican versus in the United States. Someone wanting to buy a gun has to pass written and practical tests related to guns, be deemed to be in a solid mental state, be in good health, and have a clean criminal record. The Czechs may be attached to their guns, but thanks to the regulations they have in place, the country still has an extremely low rate of violent crime. Canada also maintains strict control over gun ownership, which also allows it to maintain a very low rate of gun homicide — only 5.1 deaths per 1 million people, even though about three of 10 individuals in Canada own guns on average. They require intense background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun, and one telling requirement that sets them apart from the United States is the fact that they insist on safe storage of guns. They have to be locked up and unloaded — a requirement that would make it all but impossible for toddlers to murder people with guns, a heartbreaking occurrence that happens all too frequently stateside.
You're as likely to
be killed by a gun in Germany as you are to be killed by a falling object in the United States. In case you're not familiar with the statistics, that translates to just over two deaths by gun per million inhabitants. There are a lot of guns in Germany, but the controls are just so strict that gun crime is all but unheard of. The Guardian reports that background checks, again, are a huge part of what keeps German citizens so safe. People under 25 who try to buy a gun have to go through rigorous psychiatric testing, and people over that age can be called in for the same tests if they display anything that authorities deem to be troubling behavior, which can even be something like drunk driving. People can't inherit usable guns; inherited guns have to be modified so as to be unusable. Also, police can carry out random checks of gun owners' households to make sure that the guns are being stored safely — given that the Second Amendment calls for "well regulated" gun ownership, there's no reason why this couldn't be constitutional in the United States. Norway is another popular target for gun rights activists, because despite the country's strict gun laws, the Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik was able to carry out a mass killing spree that claimed the lives of 77 people, many of them children.
The mass shooting rocked the country — and the world — and
The Guardian reports that it even led to stricter gun control laws in Norway's fellow Nordic nation of Finland. But while Breivik showed in the most chilling way that Norway's gun control laws were possible to bypass, the country did not tighten those laws after the shooting — because they decided that they were already tight enough. And unlike in the United States, this decision hasn't led to any more instances of gun-related terrorism. While part of that is certainly due to a different culture surrounding guns, part of it is also due to the fact that Norway makes it very difficult for anyone to own a gun, so it's simply not as easy to carry out a massacre on Norwegian territory.
Gun control advocates in the United States. have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do. The facts are clear, though — the world offers many cases where gun control has been a success, and there's something to learn from each and every one of them.